How to Make Auditorium AV Work for Everyone in the Room

By Richard Mackie
Anna Valley Project Manager

It’s natural to focus on the audience when designing AV solutions for auditoriums. These rooms are created with the sole intention of communicating a message to an audience so there’s no arguing that the people watching your presentation are the most important people in the room. But their experience alone doesn’t determine whether your auditorium AV solution is effective.

There are four people that AV designers need to consider when creating auditorium AV solutions – and only one of them is in the audience. Focus on making the AV experience comfortable for all four of the following people and you will have created an audio-visual solution that lives up to its name.

The Presenter

A nervous, flustered presenter sets the audience on edge. The AV system should help the presenter feel relaxed and in control by providing a passive aid that helps them communicate their message. If the presenter worries about the AV technology for a second, then the system has failed them.

Auditorium AV equipment designed to put presenters at ease

  • Comfort monitors make it easy for presenters to glance at slides or notes during their presentation from anywhere on stage – so they don’t have to worry about losing their train of thought, or turn around to check what slide the audience is seeing. These flat video screens can be positioned at the foot of the stage where the audience isn’t likely to notice them, are less distracting than handheld notes and allow the presenter to move around while maintaining eye contact with the audience.
  • For scripted presentations that need to be word-perfect, teleprompters can take the pressure of learning scripts off presenters. Whether camera-mounted or stand-alone, teleprompters project the written speech onto mirrored glass, which is positioned so that the presenter can maintain eye contact with the audience while reading the script. They’re especially useful if a presentation includes a lot of detail or technical specifications, as they allow the presenter to focus on connecting with the audience rather than retaining the information.
  • Just as comfort screens provide the presenter with a way of monitoring what visuals are being projected to the audience, discreet audio monitors facing back to the presenter ensure that they can hear themselves speaking at the same volume that the audience hears. This sets the presenter’s mind at ease and prevents them either whispering inaudibly or over-projecting.

The Auditorium AV technician

Control room errors like delayed video playback, incorrectly balanced microphones and missed lighting cues can ruin an otherwise-flawless presentation. The AV technician’s ability to keep presentations running to plan, and adapt to last minute changes without incident, depends on them being comfortable with both their equipment and their ability to make it work.

How to keep the AV technician in control

  • Whether the AV team is internal, professional or a combination of the two has a big impact on your choice of equipment – less skilled, internal teams might prefer systems that are simple to operate and rely on preset configurations, while professionals would normally choose the advanced functionality that more complex systems provide.
  • Any equipment purchases should be made with futureproofing in mind. Choose equipment that will not only meet your immediate requirements, but that provides additional contingency for unexpected situations – that way you won’t have to hire another mixing desk because you’ve run out of audio inputs.
  • Consider the control room location and what monitoring equipment you’ll need to make sure that the AV technician can see and hear what the audience can. They can’t monitor audio levels and cue content if they can’t see the video screens or hear the audio outputs.
  • Comms are an often-overlooked piece of auditorium technology that have the potential to be presentation game-changers. Being able to communicate with the presenter, stage manager and event organisers allows your AV technician to become a proactive member of the team rather than simply reacting to events as they unfold

The person with the worst seat in the auditorium audience

It’s pretty easy to deliver an AV experience that satisfies the person sitting in the middle of the audience, but will that same solution work for the person sitting at a 170-degree angle to the stage, or the people in the back row? By designing an AV solution that focuses on the person with the worst seat in the audience, you are more likely to satisfy the whole audience.

The most common problems faced by the person in the worst seat

  • They can’t see the stage or the video screens from a comfortable position. Having to perch on the edge of their seat or crane their necks to see distracts the audience from the presentation. Strategically placed repeater screens allow everyone in the audience to sit back, relax and focus on the content.
  • The content on the video screens isn’t clear. There are several factors that can affect the clarity of content on video displays – from the type of video display, to screen and text size, ambient lighting, and even system maintenance. Look out for our next blog post on selecting the right video display system for your auditorium for more on this topic.
  • They can’t hear. It’s important to invest sufficiently in audio design to achieve uniform audio quality and volume throughout your space – your AV designer should ensure that the speaker placement provides a flat frequency response and doesn’t create any dead spots. You can then use a mixing desk during the event to adjust EQ, noise gate compression and other tweaks like compensation for specific types of voices.

Sometimes the worst seat isn’t even in the auditorium

Streaming presentations to remote audiences can significantly reduce event costs and increase reach – but only if the necessary planning and tech is in place to provide a positive experience for online viewers. Virtual attendees aren’t a captive audience and can easily be distracted by other factors in their environment, so it’s particularly important that your AV quality captures and keeps their attention.

  • Good quality audio is vital. Online participants might tolerate less than perfect video quality but they’ll be lost without clear audio. Take a separate mixed output from the desk and ensure you have a suitable quality audio interface for your webcasting system. Monitor the audio on the stream and ensure the level is neither too hot (causing distortion) or too quiet.
  • Choose the best cameras you can afford – ideally, broadcast-quality cameras should be used.
  • Provide the full visual experience. If you’ve sharing a video stream only, then use a mixing desk to cut between slides, videos and live action rather than pointing the camera at the stage and expecting participants to follow slides projected on a screen behind the presenter. If possible, provide presentations and supporting material as separate elements of the online delivery so that remote audiences can interact with these independently.

The auditorium manager

The auditorium manager is responsible for the day-to-day running of the events space – keeping the clients happy and the business running. They need to maximise the return on the space by minimising downtime. Equipment breakdowns cost them time and money and can damage their venue’s reputation.

How to reduce the impact of AV maintenance on an auditorium’s bottom line

  • Specify known, reliable equipment of an industry standard, with a good warranty period that provides support. Make sure that all purchased equipment comes with a good service package.
  • Make sure that your integrator’s service-level-agreement provides you with technical support when you need it. Most SLA costs are based on the turnaround time between a fault or breakdown being reported and a support team arriving on site – the shorter this time, the more your support agreement will cost.
  • While 24-hour support will also cost more than 9-5 cover, it also means that auditorium bookings can continue during the day while repairs are done overnight.
  • Keep budget aside for a preventative maintenance agreement with your AV integrator. This covers 6-monthly or annual equipment health checks and non-urgent repairs so that technical issues can be identified and addressed before they cause breakdowns.

As with most AV solutions, the secret to auditorium AV is to focus on the people – the technology is just a means of delivering a message. Get in touch with the Anna Valley team to discuss your next corporate AV project.

This column was reprinted with permission from Anna Valley Integration and originally appeared here.